Their website describes them as “Acid Funk-Soulgrass.” Their lead vocalist and percussionist, Rory Smith, calls them “the Top 40’s radio in the ‘70s.” Texas musicians Perry Lowe, Rory Smith, and Cody Justin King have one job: to get you dancing by the end of the night. Luckily, their soul-infused setlist of folksy tunes are designed to do just that. (Haven’t RSVPd to their Front Porch Session yet? Click here.) In this conversation, the band reflects on their initial development, their powerful connection as band mates, and the audience encounters that stick with them to this day.
As your website description might suggest, you guys are known for having a very unique and ‘genreless’ sound. Was this your intention or did it happen naturally?
LOWE: It was kind of straight off the bat, because we have so many different backgrounds. I did R&B and played in a rockabilly band when I was 13, so that’s what I came in with. But I always thought I never wanted to be put into a box musically. So, when we came together we decided to put all those elements together and bring in everybody’s own experiences. We didn’t really think about it. It wasn’t really a master plan.
SMITH: We wanted to have everyone play their best and be their most comfortable. And the only way to do that is for them to play what they play, to play their style; because, in the end, in all musical genres, they play the same keys. It’s all the same chords. So, no matter what, it’s all going to link up once you play.
Your first experience collaborating was at an open mic night in Bastrop, Texas. How did that come about?
SMITH: So, I walked into a bar and there was this pretty woman sitting in the audience listening to this guy sing. I went over and started talking to her and it turns out it was the performer’s wife. So we started talking, and then her husband comes off the stage, and he says, “Hey, do you sing?” and I’m like, “Yeah”. And we sang really well together.
LOWE: Yeah, so we started playing at this place called Bigmouth every now and then. We’d do a couple of songs and the floor would just get packed. People would come out to see us and people would be dancing. That’s when it sank in that we should try to do this thing and keep it going because it works out pretty good and we just went from there.
SMITH: Everything has been a natural thing that has not been forced in every iteration of us being together, which has been really cool.
Can you take us through your writing process?
LOWE: So for our first album, “Reveille”, we all had separate songs and we brought them to the table, and we’d each add our individuality to it on our instruments.
SMITH: And it worked out that they all kind of did fit together. It was cool how they fit together even though they were all pre-written.
KING: A lot of it is just that you have the music and melody, but you don’t have the right lyrics. So, on our EP, “Afterglow,” Perry brought in this song, and in trying to work on it, everyone will come up with a different musical part. That’s where the bass riff for “Afterglow” came in. We were just messing around with it. So, it’s not lyrical songwriting per se. It’s all over the map.
You’ve played in a plethora of venues. Do you have a favorite audience interaction?
SMITH: One of our first shows was playing at Billy’s Icehouse in New Braunfels. It’s this country biker bar. And our band is a racial mix-up, as it were. We’d made it a rule from the beginning that there was no one in the back. Everyone could be a frontman on their own. So, we were all up front because everyone’s equal. But that essentially means you have three white guys and two black guys all up front, all equal. And this guy with a cowboy hat comes up and sees my deadlocks and goes, “Well, what in the hell are you boys gonna do?” And we were like, “Well, we’ve come to play some music.” And he said, “Alright, well I’m gonna be sitting right over there.” And we didn’t know what to think. But by the end of the night, he had bought us three rounds of drinks. He was like, “They ain’t paying for their drinks. I got their drinks.” That’s when we know we had done our job. He got more than what he thought he was going to get.
KING: And he was happy with that.
Could you let us in on the secret of how the name Chubby Knuckle Choir came about?
LOWE: That was our first bass player, Curt Farley. He had a studio in Bastrop and that’s where we all were. Jeff Hank was doing a record and he needed some harmonies on it. Rory, myself, and another friend of ours named Leroy went in there and started doing some harmony. And Curt was back there engineering the session. So, we finished the harmonies, which were outstanding. And after the song dies down, we’re sitting there and Curt was like, “What are you boys trying to sound like?”
SMITH: So, I jokingly say, “Man, we’re trying to sound like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.”
LOWE: And Curt said, “There ain’t nothing tabernacle about you boys. Y’all the chubby knuckle choir.” And we laughed for the next three hours.
SMITH: We didn’t know if he was making fun of us or what, but it was so funny. So, then a few months later, we’re playing at Bigmouth.
LOWE: We didn’t have any idea of a name for a band. We were just playing.
SMITH: And they were like, “So, what are y’all calling yourselves?” And Curt goes, “Well, we got a name. We’ve just got to be brave enough to use it.” So, we put it out there.
LOWE: A lot of people, when I tell them the name of the group, kind of look at me like they’re ready to laugh and I’m like, “Go ahead, it’s okay. It was a joke.”
KING: I don’t know if it’s the way that I say it, but I have to repeat it every time. Like, yes you heard that correctly. Chubby. Knuckle. Choir.
What are you looking forward to in 2021 and beyond?
LOWE: Well, there’s a few songs that we’ve written, that Cody’s written, that I’ve written, that we’d probably like to test out on the road once we get them perfected. So, a new album is coming out soon.
KING: And the shows are heating up again. We play at smaller bars and stuff around here so it’s slowly picking up.
SMITH: Yeah, the pandemic has hit each of our inspirations in different ways. But we’re happy that we’re not going to be stuck behind cameras looking at people and watching and hoping that the delay isn’t ruining the show. To get the energy from the people—we can’t wait for that to be an every weekend thing.